During a recent intake exam, I was chatting with one of my patients (let’s call her Sarah). Sarah had seen almost every doctor imaginable, from conventional and integrative to acupuncturists and energy healers—the whole nine yards! But no one seemed to be able to figure out how she could have “perfect” thyroid labs and be on nutritional thyroid support, but still have symptoms of hypothyroid.
As we continued talking, I noticed a pattern: Her thyroid problems would get better for a little while, and then boom! They’d resurface and hit her like a ton of bricks. Her hair would fall out in clumps, she’d feel like her feet were made of cement when walking up the stairs, and she’d suffer from such bad brain fog that she’d need to write explicit to-do lists for her work tasks.
The way she described these episodes to me was striking! She would get really stressed at work, have a really big project or support a really big client and get through that just fine. Then when it all started to settle down, her episodes would begin. She would power through like she always did, but they really took a toll on her life. She described the same scenario after she would come down with the common cold, flu, or seasonal allergies.
This pattern of immune stimulation and stress causing her hypothyroid symptoms to come back led me to question whether she had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the autoimmune condition where her body was fighting against her own thyroid gland. We ran her antibodies, and sure enough they came back very elevated. This was a key finding in her case, as Hashimoto’s can cause cyclical worsening and improvement of hypothyroid symptoms.
So, we set out to treat her Hashimoto’s and decrease her antibody load—here’s what worked.
- Fight the inflammation. Hashimoto’s can cause a lot of local (to the thyroid) and systemic (to the whole body) inflammation that we needed to address through dietary changes and anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients.
- A big piece to fighting Hashimoto’s is eliminating gluten from your diet. Gluten can be very inflammatory to your gut lining, and cause intestinal permeability and subsequent immune system activation. Often, removing gluten from a Hashimoto’s patient’s diet is a gamechanger for them.
- Modulate her immune system. When Sarah’s immune system was out of whack from the constant stress (which suppresses your immune system) and frequent immune stimulation (from the allergies and illnesses!), it can cause your antibodies to elevate, and worsen your symptoms.
- Plant sterols can target a specific piece of your immune system called T-helper cells, normalizing their actions. By modulating their response, you can help stabilize your immune system and decrease antibody load.
- Vitamin D plays a huge role in your immune system function. Not only can it modulate those same T-helper cells, but studies have also linked a vitamin D deficiency with increased risk of developing Hashimoto’s. Further than that, patients who supplemented with higher doses of vitamin D actually decreased their antibody load.
- Decrease antibody load. Selenium is a very important nutrient that supports the thyroid in a couple of different ways. Studies have shown that not only can supplementing with selenium improve thyroid hormone conversion, but it can also protect the thyroid from oxidation from free radicals, and decrease anti-thyroglobulin antibodies.
- Support her adrenal glands. Your thyroid and your adrenals are best friends, and when one starts to slack, the other picks up the extra weight. If you’re dealing with Hashimoto’s, those antibodies are putting a lot of extra stress on your body. And in reverse, the extra stress you put yourself under (from a job or family) can cause Hashimoto’s to worsen. That being said, supporting your adrenals with nourishing herbs and nutrients is essential.
- Support your hormones. Your hormones have a foot on the gas when it comes to your immune system. Women are most susceptible to acquiring Hashimoto’s around times of big hormonal shifts—puberty, pregnancy and menopause. If your hormones are out of whack, this could be triggering your immune system to go into overdrive.
- Finding the cause. There are many different things that can be an underlying cause for Hashimoto’s but here are just a few examples:
- If you have another autoimmune condition, such as celiac disease.
- Immune stimulation from another source such as eating food allergens (leaky gut); gut dysbiosis, SIBO, yeast, and chronic infections such as Lyme, mycoplasma, and epstein barr virus; and chronic atopic diseases like eczema, asthma, and seasonal allergies.
- Nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D and selenium.
I’m happy to report that after putting Sarah on a plan to not only address her autoimmunity, but also treat her whole person, her antibody levels reduced, her symptoms lessened, and she is well on her way to healing her thyroid.
Does this sound like your body? Schedule a free, 15-minute consult to figure out if a specialized treatment plan that factors in your holistic wellness is right for you.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.